The World of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

An Introduction


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About the Book

Of Shakespeare’s sonnets we know the crystalline meter, exquisite diction, and exhilarating surprise of the “turn” in the final couplet. By contrast, we know very little of their subjects and motives. This book does not approach the sonnets as Shakespearean autobiography but instead delineates the customs that shaped the poet’s world and thus his sonnets. It argues for understanding them as brilliant, edgy expressions of the equally brilliant, edgy culture of the English Renaissance.

About the Author(s)

Robert Matz is an associate professor of English at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Bibliographic Details

Robert Matz
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 248
Bibliographic Info: 2 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2008
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3219-6
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5403-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vi
Preface      1
Introduction      5

Section I: “This Powerful Rhyme”
1. Mirrors of Courtesy      21
2. Educating the Courtier      28
3. Love, or Literary Credential?      34
4. In the Shadow of Abundance      37
5. Dedicated Words      43
6. He That Buys Must Sell      48
7. Thy True-telling Friend      53
8. From Form to Feeling      58

Section II: “A Man Right Fair”
9. Before Homosexuality      65
10. The King Loved Him Well      71
11. Marriages and Men      77
12. “Eternal Lines”: Marriage or Poetry?      82
13. “Being Your Slave”      86
14. Friendship and Its Flatteries      92
15. But Did They Have Sex?      102

Section III: “A Woman Coloured Ill”
16. Gynerasty..      111
17. Saucy Jacks      114
18. Weaker Vessels.      118
19. A Reproach of Their Own      123
20. The Black Mistress: A Renaissance Common Place      126
21. More Perjured I?      133
22. “The Expense of Spirit”      139
23. Fair Is Foul      143
24. Sonnet 20: A Reprise      151

Section IV: “So Long Lives This”
25. The Sonnets Today      155
26. From “Sweet Boy” to “Sweet Love”      160
27. “Piteous Constraint to Read Such Stuff”      167
28. A Lover and a Man      173
29. The Science of Sonnets      178
30. Wilde Sonnets.      185
31. Love Poetry at Last      193

Coda: Universal Shakespeare?      203
Notes      205
Bibliography      227
Index      237

Book Reviews & Awards

Choice Outstanding Academic Title
“highly recommended”—Choice; “the book’s timeliness is what makes it a valuable contribution to Shakespeare studies”—Pennsylvania Literary Journal; “In The World of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Robert Matz offers readers elegant guidance into the social and literary conventions that shape Shakespeare’s poems and have influenced their reception over the past four hundred years. The book is especially astute in its reading of the sex-gender system, including its class and racial dimensions, in which Shakespeare conceived his fair young male beloved and his black mistress. This is the book I would recommend to any novice—and even to more experienced readers—approaching the sonnets.”—Jonathan Goldberg, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor, Department of English, Emory University; “Teachers and students alike will learn from Matz’s accessible information and extensive research, and grow from the opportunity to participate in the 400-year conversation about Shakespeare’s sonnets. In the end, we remember that we must connect the sonnets to Shakespeare’s world in order to understand their connection to ours. This book will come in handy when I teach the sonnets.”—Nichole Lehman, English Department, Chantilly High School, Chantilly, Virginia.